Country: USA
Language: English.
Release Date: March 2012
AKA: Artemis
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson.
Director: Gary Ross.

The Hunger Games

the hunger games - a film review

The Hunger Games is a film that has been highly anticipated by fans of the books. The initial reviews have been mainly positive and excitement has been growing steadily. Twitter has been buzzing with celebrities and critics commenting on how much they've enjoyed the pre-launch viewings of the film. In fact, "The Hunger Games" has been trending on twitter in Australia for 4 days solid. And, as my own excitement was heightening, it was thrust backwards and dampened quite soundly by a heavily negative review from David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, the film critics from "At The Movies" on the ABC.

David and Margaret's reviews of the film (they always give separate opinions) were astonishing. Astonishing because they were so negative; Margaret tossing it 2 stars, while David disparagingly but loudly rating it 1.5 stars.

I don't have a problem with their not liking the film, I have a problem with the reasons they gave for not liking the film. They were unfathomable to me.

David says:

Margaret says:
I pretty much agree with you but I think there's been a problem in the translation from the book to the film, because apparently - and I haven't read the book, which is really for young teens I think - it's been written in the first person from Katniss' point of view and I think that translation to the third person perspective on her, a lot has been lost in the translation, which is a shame because there is the potential there for this intrepid young woman and Jennifer Lawrence has an amazing screen presence. I think she is wonderful.

What I say:
I'm going to offer my review of the film and address David and Margaret's comments as I progress. So, lawsuits aside, here goes:

Let the Review Begin ....

The Plot: Sometime in the future in what was once North America, the rulers of a decadent dictatorship force 24 teenagers, 12 boys and 12 girls, from each of the country's 12 enslaved districts, to fight to the death in a contest relayed to the entire country on television. In District 12 16-year-old Katniss volunteers when her young sister is originally chosen, and, together with Peeta, the baker's son, becomes a 'Tribute', taken to the nation's capital to be groomed and trained for the Hunger Games.

Having read the Hunger Games trilogy I was immediately drawn to the film's opening showing the destitution of District 12, the hunger, the poverty, the miners, the closeness of the community in spite of circumstances. Katniss and Gale's hunting trip showed their friendship and their ability to hunt to feed their respective families.

And, after the Reaping (the selection of the Tributes), as Peeta and Katniss are transported to "The Capitol" on a luxury train with spectacular furnishings and copious amounts of food, the disparity between District 12 and the Capitol is displayed clearly and heartbreakingly.

(To David: The books are not solely aimed at young girls, many people of various age groups from both genders have read these books. They were published as Young Adult Fiction, as were Harry Potter and Twilight which also attracted many adult readers. Also, if you had read the first book you would have known both that and the fact that Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is in it superficially along with other characters that return with more to do and say in the second book)

(To Margaret: There's a reason you should read a book before viewing a film, only one reason. Hollywood pays for the rights to the book so that they will subsequently inherit the fans of the book. I'm sure your reaction to that would be that the film should stand on it's own but I feel it's a duty to review the film based on the book for the fans alone.)

On the train we get to properly meet Effy (Elizabeth Banks) with her Marie Antoinette coiffure and her repugnant ignorance of her luxurious circumstances. And, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) the drunken obnoxious former hunger games champion. These two actors perform beautifully throughout the entire film embellishing and embedding their characters into the story.

The opulence continues as the Tributes enter the Capitol. They are amazed by the technology, the outrageous fashions, the frivolity and patent disregard for their lives, except as celebrities and entertainment.

We meet Cinna (Katniss' stylist), Seneca (the producer of the hunger games), Caesar (the TV host of the hunger games) and President Snow and get to know the residents of The Capitol as the Tributes train and learn about the games.

(To David: your reference to great actors under utilized. Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson aside there was Lenny Kravatz (Cinna), Wes Bentley (Seneca), Stanley Tucci (Caesar) and Donald Sutherland (President Snow) all present and accounted for throughout the film and all their characters were fully entertaining. Did you and Margaret spend too long at the open bar prior to watching? What were you thinking saying that all those actors were mostly wasted?)

I read a great review of The Hunger Games over at Cinema Autopsy where Thomas Caldwell refers to the fact that the actual games cover less than a third of the film which, he believes, is so that the violence is not glorified. I fully agree with that thought because if I were watching the Hunger Games and enjoying the violence, that is, these children fighting to the death, it would put me firmly in the mindset of those Capitol residents. Not a place I want to be. It is also why in the books you don't get to know all the Tributes that well as, sadly, there is no need.

(To David: If you wanted a Gladiator style film, may I suggest a little Russell Crowe? And, as you obviously weren't paying attention throughout this film, Cato, Foxface and Rue were all present and accounted for throughout the actual games, as were Rue and Cato's partner tributes. You were asleep?)

I'm not going to go through every scene of The Hunger Games but I will say that the photography was spectacular; there was slight shaky cam and it was enjoyable. It was very close and personal and representative of the isolation the tributes felt throughout the games. The photography broadened out when the "Career" tributes were shown perhaps to emphasize their confidence. The close up technique was especially relevant to the "blood bath" at the cornucopia at the start of the games. The brutality of the "Career" tributes to the less informed was not glorified in any way. It was expected. Enough said.

(To David: see my last point above). (To Margaret: Now if you'd read the book you would have known what to expect because obviously you weren't paying attention when Haymitch tells Katniss to stay away from the Cornucopia. I understand that most critics say that the film should stand in it's own right, there is no need to read the book. I disagree, obviously.)

To me, this film is the closest adaptation of a book to film that I've seen and I think it is done extremely well. It is multi-layered and rich with great photography, fantastic costumes, brilliant set design and the Mockingjay birdsong, which is despairing but aptly fitting, was like the icing on the cake for me. The acting, as I've mentioned, is pretty solid, especially Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) and Woody Harrelson (Haymitch). I would never have cast any of them but they were so good that I can't remember my reservations.

Kravatz is being singled out as a standout performance and while he plays his part as Cinna very well, to me itchy and scratchy could have co-played the part and it would have worked because Cinna's character is above contempt. So is it great acting, or, just a great part?

Regardless, this film has left me hanging out for the next instalment, can't wait for "Catching Fire".

To David and Margaret: I have a question for you. If you really can't see that this film was never intended to be a large-scale action film and you didn't enjoy the storytelling then you really should have read the book because then you wouldn't have been surprised.

My question? How was that pre theatre open bar? It must have been awesome.